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Chilling Out

Chilling Out

Elysia Rotaru and Stephen Sawchuk

FWDFeatured
Mackenzie Mowat and Jenna Romanin in “FWD”

Chilling Out is where TrunkSpace talks all things horror and genre with those who work in the projects that give us the thrills and chills to keep coming back for more. This time out we’re chatting with Elysia Rotaru and Stephen Sawchuk, the brains behind “FWD,” the new horror/comedy hybrid that is giving us a serious hankering for ’90s nostalgia.

We recently sat down with the creative duo to discuss embracing the camp, being scared to scare, and why they owe a lot of favors to a lot of people.

TrunkSpace: First and foremost, how did the creative partnership between the two of you come about?
Sawchuk: Elysia and I have known each other for nearly a decade now so it’s been a long time in the making. People always warn you not to get into business with your friends but I think what clicked for us is that we share a lot of the same creative instincts and work ethic. When we decided to pair up, Elysia was acting at the time and I was producing reality television, and we were both eager to sink our teeth into something new and different where we could flex our creative muscles a bit more.

TrunkSpace: Many of us believe in love at first sight, but does the same apply to creativity? Can two people share a like-minded creative POV right out of the gates, and if so, did you both find that in each other?
Sawchuk: We’re both creative people but that’s not to say we agree all of the time, which is a healthy part of the process. What works well for us is that Elysia brings her extensive acting and coaching background to the table, and as a producer I’m heavily involved in the day to day of both the creative and logistics, so we clicked and our skill sets complement each other and we push each other into new territory.

TrunkSpace: We love that “FWD” is ‘90s based. (Big ups to the chokers and the Skeet Ulrich reference!) Was the setting itself sort of necessary given the premise, which is based around a chain email that brings about unspeakable… wait for it… HORROR?
Sawchuk: Totally! We’re both huge fans of the 90’s slasher genre, and wanted to embrace the camp and ridiculousness of that era… Y2K fear and killer emails!
Rotaru: You remember those, don’t you?!

TrunkSpace: Speaking of horror, as filmmakers, do you feel like you kind of come into “FWD” having a built-in audience knowing how passionate the horror audience is for all things within the genre… even if there are different subsets within the larger horror umbrella?
Rotaru: The horror audience is very savvy, so it was actually a little scary (no pun intended) creating a film in the genre. It’s one thing to have a built-in audience, but another to have them actually enjoy your film!
Sawchuk: As newcomer filmmakers to the genre we wanted to make sure our first project had the elements of a horror film, but that it didn’t take itself too seriously.

TrunkSpace: On the opposite side of that coin, is the horror audience difficult to please, because in a lot of ways, it feels like a genre where each project has to keep upping itself in terms of gore and twisting plot points?
Sawchuk: Absolutely! There’s a lot to live up to in the genre, and during the brainstorming process for “FWD” I kept asking myself “what can we do differently?” And that’s a super tough question to answer because I think people kind of feel like “it’s all been done before” in terms of the slasher genre. So my challenge was to tell a contained story in less than 10 minutes that wasn’t just a guy with a knife stalking two young girls. We hope we accomplished that with a unique setting and era and a twist ending in the final scene.

Elysia Rotaru

TrunkSpace: In creating the short, do you see this as your complete vision, or is the hope to take the concept and turn it into a full-length feature?
Sawchuk: There were a ton of things we wish we could have done differently with the short, but we did our best with the time, money and resources we had available.
Rotaru: And we knew we just needed to make the film! It sounds cliché but it’s true – if you wait around for the perfect moment to start, you’ll never start. So there were a lot of things we wish we could’ve done differently with the short, but we’ve been developing a feature-length film based on the short that we’re really excited about!

TrunkSpace: Was there anything that you had hoped to accomplish with “FWD” that you had to revisit during production because of budget or time constraints?
Sawchuk: We made the movie on a buck and a half (kidding not kidding) so we really had to stretch every dollar and beg, borrow and steal. Any filmmaker in the genre will tell you that funding resources are super limited… a lot of the organizations ignore or disqualify horror altogether which is disappointing, so you have to get creative with how you’re going to make it happen. We self funded and set up an Indiegogo page and the film wouldn’t have been made if it weren’t for the support of friends, family and fans of the genre. We also had a crazy talented crew who worked on the project simply because they liked the script and the people on the team. So basically we owe a lot of favors back! Looking back, I wish we could have used some different camera gear and upped our special effects/gore game a bit, but we did what we could with the resources we had available. I think every filmmaker gets that “woulda shoulda coulda” feeling.

Stephen Sawchuk

TrunkSpace: As we said, the film is based in the ‘90s, but there’s also a great ‘90s horror vibe to it as well. Were the return of slasher films like “Scream” and “Urban Legend” an influence in “FWD” coming into fruition, particularly given the comedic tone that it strikes at times?
Sawchuk: Totally! The opening scenes of the “Scream” movies really inspired us. Those scenes are usually five to 10 minutes long but they immediately rope you in and keep you engaged until the title card comes up. Our challenge was to try to have a similar impact on an audience, but tell a contained story that had a pay off by minute seven. I could watch the openers to the original “Scream” and “Scream 4” on loop! The way the “Scream” movies infused comedy into the genre was game changing. Nobody did the horror-comedy spin better than Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson.

TrunkSpace: What did the two of you take from the experience of bringing “FWD” to life that you’ll apply to your next project and each one after that?
Rotaru: Follow your instincts, honor your vision and have fun throughout the process. Filmmaking is so collaborative, which can sometimes mean there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen, so it’s important to stick to your gut.
Sawchuk: We were lucky to work with a really great, supportive and talented cast and crew and honestly we wouldn’t have been able to make the film without them. Surrounding yourself with like-minded people who share your passion is really important. Another key takeaway from working on our first project together is to not take yourself too seriously!

TrunkSpace: What’s next for you two as far as your creative partnership goes?
Sawchuk: Our second screenplay is ready to roll!
Rotaru: It’s another horror-comedy called ‘Daddy Issues’ that we’re both really excited about, and it was written with feature film potential in mind. We’re still in development but hope to take it to camera before the end of 2018.
Sawchuk: We’re still working on the treatment for the feature-length ‘FWD’ as well!

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Chilling Out

Hiroshi Katagiri

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Chilling Out is where TrunkSpace talks all things horror and genre with those who work in the projects that give us the thrills and chills to keep coming back for more. This time out we’re chatting with Hiroshi Katagiri, the makeup FX marvel who made the leap into writing and directing with “Gehenna: Where Death Lives.” Starring Doug Jones, Lance Henriksen and Eva Swan, the directorial debut follows a group of people who travel to Saipan in search of a new resort location, only to find something much less relaxing – a hidden bunker filled with history, secrets and terror.

We recently sat down with Katagiri to discuss how long he’s been dreaming of his own film, the reason he wanted to combine the feel of both Japanese horror and American horror, and why he couldn’t be too demanding on set.

TrunkSpace: You’ve had your hand in so many films over the years, but what did it mean to you personally to be spearheading a film of your own? How special was that for you?
Katagiri: I’ve been doing this job for like 27 years now, but when I realized that I wanted to make a movie is when I was 20, actually – a year after I started this job. So yeah, it’s been a long time. I’m 46 now. It took took me 26 years.

TrunkSpace: Was this always the film you had in mind? Was “Gehenna: Where Death Lives” the movie you’ve been waiting to make for 26 years?
Katagiri: No, not really. No way. Generally, I wanted to be a director, but I didn’t know what to do – since I became independent from my parents and I was making my own money by doing the makeup effects. Back then, that was the early ‘90s so I had to go to school if you want to make a film, in general, before the digital days. So I was just burying my dream in me for a long time. But I think in early 2000 I saw someone just editing their videos on a computer. That freaked me out. (Laughter) I was like, “Can you do that?” Then my longest dream came back. “Okay, maybe it’s possible if I could shoot and just edit and make a film.” So, after working on “Hellboy” I got some downtime and in 2003 I decided to pursue this new career. I bought the new video camera and a new computer and editing software. I started my first video project then, in 2003, which is 15 years ago.

I knew if I was going to do my first feature, I was not going to have much money, so I had to think of a story with the possibility that I could make it with such a low budget.

TrunkSpace: So you purposely made it self-contained?
Katagiri: Yeah. So then I think about the stories with limited characters, limited number of characters, and a limited location. Then, “What can I make a story about where a few people will be stuck in a certain place?” So that’s how I start thinking about this story. And then also, I take my advantage, my background, which is growing up in Japan for 18 years and then I live here for 20 years, so I have a dual culture background. I like the scariness of a Japanese horror, but usually Japanese horror films are boring. (Laughs) It’s a good thing and a bad thing, you know? It’s like a slow pace and sometimes it’s effective for the scariness. But American horror… a good example is “The Ring” because there’s a Japanese version and an American version. The Japanese version is way more scary for me, but it’s boring as hell. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: It was all about setting a tone and feel.
Katagiri: Yeah. That’s effective, but it’s really hard to stay awake. And with the American “The Ring,” I think that’s an excellent film, excellent. As a film, that was great, but the scariness at the end was not as scary as the Japanese version. So I was thinking, “Okay, I can use the good part of both.” I like the pace of American films and the scariness of a Japanese film, so I just tried to combine both of those. I can use the Japanese scariness and the American culture.

The main character had to be American because I wanted to make an international movie. And then the location came up… it was a place that America and Japan fought and so many people died there, both Japanese and American. “It could be a good location for a horror story and what if there is a Japanese bunker? A hidden bunker? And an American crew stuck there?” That’s how I started out my story.

TrunkSpace: You’ve been around film sets for years, but what was your first day as a director like? Were you nervous stepping into that new role?
Katagiri: Yeah, especially the first day of shooting. Because of the schedule of Doug Jones, the shooting dates set it. He only could participate on the first two days. From the first day of the shoot there is Doug Jones and I have to direct him. Yeah, that’s a big deal! (Laughter) I knew him and I had been working with him as a makeup effects artist, but I never directed him.

Katagiri and Doug Jones on the set of “Gehenna: Where Death Lives.”

TrunkSpace: Did you go into the experience trying to emulate the style or approach of another director you have seen work?
Katagiri: Not really imitating the other directors, but it’s natural just remembering how they were acting, how they’ve been behaving. Yeah, that gave me influence. Of course.

And especially in a low budget film like this, many people are working as a favor so I cannot be too demanding. (Laughs) I can’t say, “Okay, shut up, I’m paying you!” (Laughs)

TrunkSpace: It’s probably difficult not to get caught up in the stress though. Shooting a film is a big thing, with so many people involved.
Katagiri: Yeah, absolutely. That’s tough when there’s so many people waiting for my call and, without my approval, then it doesn’t move forward, so the pressure is huge. But at the same time it’s rewarding of course. It’s something I was imagining for like seven years since I started writing. It’s right in front of me, so that’s a big deal.

TrunkSpace: You’ve continued your work in makeup effects, but is that a path that you always want to travel on in your career or do you see yourself moving more towards writing and directing?
Katagiri: If I can make a living as a director, I would like to shift to director. You know, it’s been like 27 years in my career doing the makeup effects and I’ve done so many things and if I could create something like a major character for a major movie then I don’t have any more desire. The ‘90s was the greatest time. I was always busy and we were leading the world. We were creating something nobody had seen before. Really good time, good time. And now, you know, it’s like repeating those things we discovered and it’s nothing too new. It’s still fun, creating things, but I’d rather just be directing if I can.

TrunkSpace: So do you feel like, as an artist, you’ve done all that you can do in the makeup effects field? Are you fulfilled in that area?
Katagiri: Yeah, I do. I do. Like Guillermo del Toro, he used to do the makeup effects for a short period of time, then he starting showing a passion for making movies. He’s not doing hands on but he is creating the characters and creatures. That’s what I would like to do.

“Gehenna: Where Death Lives” is available now on VOD.

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Chilling Out

Johannes Roberts

JohannesRobertsFeatured

Chilling Out is where TrunkSpace talks all things horror and genre with those who work in the projects that give us the thrills and chills to keep coming back for more. This time out we’re chatting with Johannes Roberts, director of “The Strangers: Prey at Night,” the long-anticipated sequel to the 2008 surprise horror hit. Starring Christina Hendricks, Bailee Madison and Martin Henderson, the frightening follow-up tells the story of a family stalked by a trio of masked strangers, seemingly without any real motivation at all… other than a genuine joy for murder.

We recently sat down with Roberts to discuss how his vision for the film sprung from the first, the importance of pacing in “The Strangers” universe, and why he was nervous about some of the creative choices he made with “Prey at Night.”

TrunkSpace: When you’re preparing to helm a sequel to a movie like “The Strangers,” what’s your visual approach? We would have to imagine that you want to bring your own vision to the film while also looking to carry the established look and feel of the original?
Roberts: Yeah, it’s a tricky one, to be honest. I think initially we started quite faithfully to the world. When I first started I was like, “Okay, let’s approach this as a sequel.” And then it sort of grew into something… into its own beast. But there’s a lot that’s very faithful to Brian’s movie, the costumes and the sort of world it’s set in.

I’ve been wanting to do a movie like this for a long time where you get to use the zoom lenses and the split diopters and to really go, properly, sort of retro and with the fog machines rolling all the time and that kind of thing. So, yeah, it just sort of became it’s own thing. I’m just such a huge John Carpenter fan that I saw this as my chance to make the John Carpenter movie that he never made. It was “Christine.” It’s “The Fog.” I had fun with that side of things.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned the world, and it’s a world where pacing is so important in terms
of just how to structure the fear.
Roberts: Yes, absolutely.

TrunkSpace: That similar pacing of the original is something that carries over into your film, that sort slow burn.
Roberts: Yes, so much. I think Brian’s a super talented writer and I am a big fan of the first (film) in the way that you have this couple going through an emotional breakdown, and then so everything comes from that. To be honest, it’s not about the strangers, it’s about them and their relationship, and the strangers are almost… they sort of come out of it. They always signify this couple’s problems and they sort of become real life. We really sort of played with that in this one.

And then, yeah, the pacing is a huge… it’s the most fun thing I think about these movies like “The Strangers” and this one, “Prey At Night,” is you get to be really slow – like you have a real sense of dread building. And then when it goes, it just goes. Eventually it goes mental. So, yeah, it was a fun one.

TrunkSpace: From what we could tell, you’ve had a hand in writing nearly every project that you’ve directed. Does it make directing a different experience when you’re not also serving as the screenwriter on a particular project?
Roberts: Yes, it does. As a writer, as a director, you come on and you really shape the material. I think any good director, whether you’ve written yourself or whether you haven’t, you take the blueprint of the script and then you make it your own and you restructure it for the world that you want to make. So I get very involved in that side anyhow. When you haven’t created the characters yourself, it’s actually quite a freeing experience, I find. You approach things in a very different way. Sometimes it’s actually a much more visual way because that’s where you’re coming from. You’re not coming from the emotional world of the characters that you’ve built up. The film has a real style and look that was actually quite freeing that, maybe, I wouldn’t have been brave enough to do if I had written this and created it myself.

TrunkSpace: Does not having an emotional, creator-based attachment to characters make it easier for you to adjust and make changes to them on the fly, should it be revealed that a particular story or character element isn’t working as planned?
Roberts: I’m pretty good regardless. I would have spent, with “The Strangers,” three months. I would’ve worked and reworked that script over, and over, and over again. It’s not like you just go out with the material that you get and you’re just sort of out there doing it. Different directors work different ways. I think a lot of directors work purely on storyboards, for instance. They’ll sort of storyboard over and over again. For me, I need to pull the script apart and put it back together again like an old car or something. And I just need to do that over and over again, just pulling it apart, putting it back together, changing, moving. Sometimes it’s just a question of, “That scene needs to be joined with that scene,” or, “That scene shouldn’t be there, it should be there.” So I like to edit the movie before making it, to have made every scene feel shootable.

© Aviron Pictures 2017

TrunkSpace: You mentioned being such a fan of John Carpenter and getting to make your version of “The Fog.” Did you try any new techniques or approaches to directing with this film that you hadn’t done in the past?
Roberts: I mean, very much in terms of cinematically, with the camera work. This is my 11th movie. I’ve come up from making sort of tiny B movies and I’ve always wanted to use the techniques that I used on this, but I’ve never been brave enough because they’re just not very fashionable. And I was really worried even though there is this kind of ’80s nostalgia going on, I just didn’t know if an audience would respond to the techniques that I was using with the zoom lenses and the split diopters.

I’m not a surgeon saving lives, but it was a brave movie for me with the way I shot it.

TrunkSpace: What was it like putting those choices to the test? Did you sit in on any early screenings and see in real time how the audience was able to react to them?
Roberts: Yeah. When we finished that movie and screened it, I was like, “How are people going to take this?” And we tested it. At the test screening… I don’t think anybody really knew how people would respond. And they just responded well, so it was like, “Okay, that’s done, fine.” (Laughter) But yeah, that could have gone horribly. As is always the way when you take a risk – you take a risk.

The Strangers: Prey at Night” stalks its way into theaters this Friday.

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Chilling Out

Jessica Cameron

JessicaCameronFeatured
Photo By: Greg Damron

Jason had his hockey mask. Freddy had his glove. Simon has… his huggable, squeezable, loveable plush body, which he will use to lull you into a false sense of security before horrifically murdering you.

Yes, not only do we live in a world where we have to worry about deadly flu outbreaks, erratic weather, and an endless run of New England Patriots’ Super Bowls, but now we have inanimate felt killers to fear, at least according to the exciting new horror/comedy mashup from Lisa Ovies, “Puppet Killer.”

With the film set to hit the festival circuit throughout 2018, we recently sat down with producer, star and horror icon Jessica Cameron to discuss how she became involved in the project, why it could become a cult classic, and which film over the course of her career is the nearest and dearest to her heart.

TrunkSpace: We know that the “Puppet Killer” journey first began when Lisa Ovies attended a parade with singing puppets, but at what point in the development did you join the project and what was it about the film that interested you?
Cameron: How can you see Simon (the adorable pink murderous puppet) and not be interested? Second (well, arguably first) Lisa is such a tremendous talent and so very passionate about her film, it’s infectious. I became involved late in the filming process, Lisa and I had a lot in common as well as a mutual respect for each other’s art so I jumped at the chance to get involved.

TrunkSpace: You have been involved in countless horror films throughout the years giving you an insider’s perspective on what genre audiences look for and like in their consumption of content. What elements of “Puppet Killer” do you think viewers will be drawn to most and why does it have a strong possibility of becoming a cult classic?
Cameron: This film is everything that everyone loves about classic horror films, from the main characters to the kills. The film doesn’t take itself too seriously and you can tell that those involved deeply love the genre. It’s also just a really fun film, one of those that you are surprised the movie is over after you watched it ’cause you had so much fun that time just flew by.

TrunkSpace: When the trailer hit, people went crazy online. With a film like “Puppet Killer,” is word of mouth its biggest asset in finding long-term success?
Cameron: I think word of mouth is great but making a stand-out, high quality and original film is the key to finding long term success. If you do that, the fans will find it.

TrunkSpace: You’re someone who is very active on social media. Has the continued emergence of social media and its relevance in today’s society changed the way people can promote horror and ultimately reach audiences?
Cameron: Absolutely. And thankfully so! It’s made it possible for lower budget films to get strong releases and reach a much larger audience than before the emergence of social media. Social media is only going to become more important to indie films, and those who are active in promoting their work will be the ones who get hired more often than not.

TrunkSpace: You also have this great ability to not only interact with your fans through social media, but speak to their interests. In a lot of ways, promoting a project on social media is not just about doing it, but how you do it, correct?
Cameron: You are absolutely correct. That also goes to picking the right projects to get involved with. When you select quality films with incredible people involved it’s really easy to get the fans on board and it’s an absolute pleasure to share a cool horror trailer/interview/press release with awesome fans.

TrunkSpace: In “Puppet Killer” you’re playing a character named Vengeance. Without giving away too much, can you shed more light on just who Vengeance is and how the character ties into the overall storyline?
Cameron: Vengeance is a character modeled after all the classic scream queens from the 80s who I greatly respect and admire. It was an honor to pay tribute to them with this character. I don’t want to say too much to give away anything but lets just say that she is a spunky, never-back-down kinda girl.

TrunkSpace: You’re also producing the film alongside of Lisa Ovies. Does working behind the camera have a different draw for you than acting in a project? Is there a different level of personal investment in a project when you’re wearing multiple hats throughout the production process?
Cameron: It’s a different aspect of my soul and personality that is involved when I am behind the camera. As an actress it’s all about the creative process, but as a producer and director there is so much more that I need to pay attention to – my business side and my creative side both have to be constantly functioning at 110 percent. There is most definitely a different level of attachment when I am behind the camera as opposed to in front of the camera. As an actor I may only work on a film for a day, or a week, perhaps a month. But as a producer or director I am putting in years of work, the film is essentially like my child and I have overseen this little project from inception, through production, post and onto a release.

TrunkSpace: You’re no stranger to taking your films to festivals around the world. “Puppet Killer” will soon go on a journey of its own, premiering at festivals throughout 2018. Do you enjoy the process of rolling out a film in that way? Does it make it a more personal experience for viewers when you’re screening a project for a specific audience?
Cameron: Alas film festivals are, for the majority of indie films, the only way the film is ever shown in a theater, so I love the process of making that happen. I also love being able to watch the films with an audience, there is nothing better as a filmmaker in my opinion. The fans love it when they can meet those involved with the film they are watching and ask any questions that they may have. As a horror fan this is my favorite way to see a film.

TrunkSpace: The film is a horror/comedy hybrid, which doesn’t always work with audiences if the tone isn’t properly struck. As an actress, do you scrutinize projects that meld the genres together more so than those that are strictly in the horror sandbox?
Cameron: As an actress I don’t – it’s my job to do the script justice and try to hit the tone as per the director’s wishes. So I work at assisting them in their vision. As a horror fan I do scrutinize when genre’s are mixed because it’s so hard to do well and as you mention, to get the tone right. It really takes the right team of people for it to come together.

TrunkSpace: You’ve been on countless film sets throughout your career. What project wins the award for being nearest and dearest to your heart in terms of the personal experience and why?
Cameron: “Truth or Dare” will always have a special place in my heart as it was the first time I got behind the camera, and really created a film from scratch. It was an idea that had been lingering in my head for years and it felt so great to finally get it out! Also I got to work with Heather Dorff a second time on that set and it was really when our friendship was completely cemented and I knew that this was a woman I always wanted on my set if at all possible. She was just such a pleasure to work with and so tremendously talented. (You can get “Truth or Dare” on Amazon here.)

TrunkSpace: You’ve also slipped into the mindset of many characters. Are there any characters that you wished you got to spend more time with and learn about further? Who would you revisit and why?
Cameron: Jennifer in “Truth or Dare” is a fascinating character whose history gets explored in the sequel… so stay tuned for that. Another character that comes to mind is Harriet in “The Tombs.” She’s quite the complex character and I had a lot of fun playing her. The director, Dan Brownlie, let me improv and have a lot of fun with her. This film should start festivals in 2018 – it’s definitely one you wont want to miss!

TrunkSpace: You have a number of projects due up. Beyond “Puppet Killer,” what are you most excited to share with fans?
Cameron: Thanks for asking. Aside from the ones mentioned, I am super excited for “Mania” to be released – look for more details on this in the very near future. Also “Lilith,” “An Ending,” and “Kill the Production Assistant” will start to screen this year. “American Guinea Pig: Song of Solomon” will release this year and that’s a role that I am tremendously proud of that is being released with Unearthed Entertainment. People can follow me on social media where any and all updates will be shared.

Featured image by: Kam Gill (www.ksgphoto.com)

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Chilling Out

Simon

PuppetKillerFeatured
Simon with Lisa Ovies

Jason had his hockey mask. Freddy had his glove. Simon has… his huggable, squeezable, loveable plush body, which he will use to lull you into a false sense of security before horrifically murdering you.

Yes, not only do we live in a world where we have to worry about deadly flu outbreaks, erratic weather, and an endless run of New England Patriots’ Super Bowls, but now we have inanimate felt killers to fear, at least according to the exciting new horror/comedy mashup from Lisa Ovies, “Puppet Killer.”

With the film set to hit the festival circuit throughout 2018, we recently sat down with felt-based star Simon to discuss whether or not puppets receive the same treatment as human actors within the industry, how he found his artistic motivation, and his personal goals as a puppet working in film.

TrunkSpace: Your new movie “Puppet Killer” features, pun intended, a killer cast. In 2018, does a felt-based actor receive the same equal treatment as flesh-based actors on the set of a film like this?
Simon: No, and I think it was bullshit! I was NEVER invited to eat with the rest of the cast or to hang out in their green room. I didn’t get my own chair… I was left alone every night in the props room. It was as if I was an actual puppet instead of an actor playing a puppet. I did get a really awesome handler though, I am grateful for that. Her name was Asia and we hung out a ton on set. It was almost as if everyone else was scared of me…

TrunkSpace: Can you give us a little insight into how you became involved in “Puppet Killer.” Was the part created for you? Were you created for the part?
Simon: I believe I was created for the part although I can’t see the film being anything without me. My mom and my dad (Jack Fox) met working on another puppet movie and spent about a year deciding exactly what I looked like. Personally, I think they nailed it.

TrunkSpace: This may be a bit too personal, and feel free not to answer if we are venturing too far down the Oprah rabbit hole, but do you still have an active relationship with your maker/designer?
Simon: YES! I live with Mom and spend time with Dad when I can. Mom is pretty good about taking me to meet fans and to attend conventions. She even took me to LA and Vegas to meet Jessica Cameron. SHE IS SO PRETTY! I was a guest on her show “Scream Queen Stream” with her bestie Heather Dorff and it was one of the best days of my life. They even let me drink!

TrunkSpace: For those who aren’t familiar with “Puppet Killer,” can you give us a little bit about your character and where the journey takes you throughout the course of the film?
Simon: Well, the story is really about the friendship between me and my onscreen/offscreen bestie Aleks Paunovic. His character grows up and starts to think he doesn’t need me anymore but I remind him that he and I should be together forever. Other than all the killing, it is a really heartfelt story about a boy and his best friend.

TrunkSpace: From a performance standpoint, you have to go to some pretty dark places in the film. What did you tap into internally/emotionally to bring yourself there?
Simon: I just let it sink in. You know, Aleks thinking he doesn’t need me anymore and what I would do. It was really easy once I realized it was them or me. I really enjoyed the experience.

TrunkSpace: From what we can tell, this is your first acting gig. What lessons did you take from the experience that you’ll apply to your career moving forward?
Simon: I realized as long as I am the star, I want to be in movies. I liked working with the crazy talented cast and really hope to work with Richard Harmon on “The 100” one day. He and I really hit it off so I really think it is only a matter of time.

TrunkSpace: Is there any concern at all that you’ll be typecast as a homicidal puppet moving forward? Did you put any thought into that when you accepted the role?
Simon: I don’t think it is a problem as I expect “Puppet Killer” to be a franchise that I can milk for quite awhile. It didn’t affect Chucky so I think I will be okay.

TrunkSpace: When you look back at the film, what are you most proud of in terms of your own individual performance?
Simon: The fact that I held my own amongst such talent. The cast is so good and I was really intimidated at first. I kept worrying I would fan boy or get nervous. I actually did a few times, especially when I had a bedroom scene with Lisa Durupt… she is so pretty and good at what she does, that was a nerve racking day but we were both really professional and held nothing back.

TrunkSpace: We know that you’re Canadian. In your opinion, do Canadian puppets have the same amount/quality of opportunities as those based in the States?
Simon: Given tax credits right now and how busy the Vancouver film community is, I think it is a great time to be a Canadian in film.

TrunkSpace: What do you think some of the biggest misconceptions are regarding felt-based actors?
Simon: That we are only puppets. We are actors, we are committed and we want to be included. Aleks and I hang out a lot and we just talk like people – he never makes me feel like “just a puppet,” but not everyone is so great. My agent puts me out for everything and I really appreciate it. My goal is to play a character without it being a part of the story, a character that just happens to be a puppet.

TrunkSpace: You’re active on social media. It’s a great place to promote projects and stay connected with family and friends, but it can also be a very septic place filled with hate. What are your thoughts on our social media society as a whole?
Simon: Sometimes it is a ton of fun, other times really intense. I pick and choose my moments and hope people start to understand the impact of social media and their responsibility. Be kind, people. There are already enough dicks out there, don’t be another one.

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Chilling Out

Lisa Ovies

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Jason had his hockey mask. Freddy had his glove. Simon has… his huggable, squeezable, loveable plush body, which he will use to lull you into a false sense of security before horrifically murdering you.

Yes, not only do we live in a world where we have to worry about deadly flu outbreaks, erratic weather, and an endless run of New England Patriots’ Super Bowls, but now we have inanimate felt killers to fear, at least according to the exciting new horror/comedy mashup from Lisa Ovies, “Puppet Killer.”

With the film set to hit the festival circuit throughout 2018, we recently sat down with the mastermind (and producer/director) Ovies to discuss how the core concept for “Puppet Killer” first came to her, discovering the right tone, and where Simon is right now.

TrunkSpace: The idea for “Puppet Killer” first struck you after watching a parade with singing puppets. What was it about taking that concept – a kid-friendly character made of felt – and turning him evil that interested you?
Ovies: I was actually producing a really great short called “Bedbugs: A Musical Love Story” at the same time that I was casting a horror film. I remember sitting on the stairs watching a musical number and thinking, “What would I do if I was in charge?” And the answer was, I would kill everyone. I would kill everyone with a puppet. I guess it was the product of living in both worlds at the same time.

TrunkSpace: Independent productions can often take a long time to come into fruition. How long has the “Puppet Killer” journey been from that spark of an idea to where you are today with the finished film?
Ovies: I think about three years? The film itself isn’t actually quite finished. We are happily chugging through post production with an amazing team.

TrunkSpace: Horror/comedy hybrids can sometimes be a challenge for filmmakers in terms of finding the right balance between the two genres. How much energy went into establishing the tone of the film, and when you started out, were there any projects that came before “Puppet Killer” that you wanted to emulate tone-wise?
Ovies: Yes, it is a really fine line to skate between a genuine comedic slasher, and a parody. We worked really hard to play the drama throughout and it was the actors’ fantastic ability to accept the circumstances and to play opposite Simon in a very truthful and honest manner. That was pretty much my biggest focus throughout and I am very grateful the actors trusted me in it. When we talked about it leading up to filming, I would reference “Evil Dead 2,” “Shaun of the Dead” and “Dead Alive.” I think we did a great job finding that energy in the film.

TrunkSpace: In watching the trailer, the film has the feeling of a classic 80s slasher flick – “Friday the 13th” meets super trippy “Pinwheel.” Did that decade of slasher greatness inspire any aspects of “Puppet Killer” or you personally as a filmmaker?
Ovies: A huge yes to both. I love 80s slasher horror films and it is very evident in “Puppet Killer.” It pays homage to all the greats, from “Nightmare on Elm Street,” “Halloween,” and “Friday the 13th.” The main character is raised by a mother (played by myself) who is obsessed with 80s horror and as a result, Aleks Paunovic’s character and Simon are as well.

TrunkSpace: You pulled together a great cast and crew to bring “Puppet Killer” to life. Many of those working on the film have been involved with projects that have amassed huge fanboy/fangirl followings, including “Supernatural,” “The 100,” and “Van Helsing.” From a business perspective, is that the audience that you’re targeting with your film, the Comic Con crowd, because this seems like something they could get behind?
Ovies: I think they are a part of our audience for sure and I know they will love seeing their favorite actors in such a different light, but we definitely made this film as an homage to 80s horror. As a result, die hard horror fans are going to love uncovering the Easter eggs and subtext within the film.

TrunkSpace: You wore many hats throughout the “Puppet Killer” development and production process. Do you enjoy taking on many different roles, or in a best-case-scenario world would you have preferred focusing on the directing alone?
Ovies: I love being creative and I love producing but at the end of the day, I think I will always be my best self when I am able to focus on one job. The next two features I am slated to direct I am only wearing the one hat and I am really excited. However, I always cameo in anything I direct so I expect you will see me pop up in them as well.

TrunkSpace: When it comes to filmmaking in general, do you see yourself as someone with a creative focus on genre projects or do you have an interest in throwing your director’s hat into the every-genre ring?
Ovies: I would love to challenge myself in different genres for sure. I really want to do a big budget action movie like “X-Men” or “Star Wars,” but at the end of the day practical effects and horror will always have my heart.

TrunkSpace: What has been the most difficult aspect of bringing your “Puppet Killer” vision into reality? What kept you up at night?
Ovies: Sadly the answer is just money. We want to keep this film ours and not lose creative control by bringing in other money, so the self-funding has been a tad stressful. We have an amazing group of executive producers that have supported us and we are truly grateful. We are trying to keep the quality really high while keeping the costs low. Our problems are certainly not unique in the independent world of film.

TrunkSpace: Was putting the final stamp on your vision a difficult thing to do? When you’re invested so much in a project, is it stressful to officially call it “done” and send it out into the world?
Ovies: I have made several films before “Puppet Killer” and that is a great question. Part of you feels relieved and so excited to share it with the world but then there is another side that will never be 100 percent done. You can always make it better or make different choices, so at one point, you need to trust yourself and your team and call it done. “Puppet Killer” is close to that stage but still has some pieces that we need to have fall in line before we get to call it done.

TrunkSpace: You’re taking “Puppet Killer” to festivals throughout 2018. Is it nerve-racking for you to sit in on a screening of a project that you had such a big hand in both creatively and on the production side of things? Do you look forward to seeing the instant reaction of audiences?
Ovies: I always worry about audience reaction but I LOVE sitting through the emotional journey with them. The first screening is the hardest… there are moments that you hold your breath and hope they get the joke, or that the jump scare will work – the gore will affect them. It is a crazy experience and every audience is different.

TrunkSpace: Finally, where is Simon right now?
Ovies: Well, as I type this, I am on a plane to LA so he is not with me. He is at home with my partner and puppies. He has lived with me since we wrapped and I love it.

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Chilling Out

Gregory Blair

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Chilling Out is where TrunkSpace talks all things horror and genre with those who work in the projects that give us the thrills and chills to keep coming back for more. This time out we’re chatting with Gregory Blair, writer, director and star of the new horror/comedy hybrid “Garden Party Massacre,” which has been entertaining people on the festival circuit throughout 2017 before reaching a wider audience later this year.

We recently sat down with Blair to discuss his multi-hat wearing ways, what the film says most about him as a filmmaker, and why he’s so excited for 2018.

TrunkSpace: Often films can linger in creative limbo for years before they have their first frame shot. What has the journey been like for “Garden Party Massacre” from inception to completion? When did the idea first strike you and when did you officially consider the film finished?
Blair: This film happened relatively fast. I got the idea in Fall of 2014, wrote the script, cast it and then we started gathering crew, setting shoot dates and all the rest. It still took over two years from start to finish, but that’s on the fast side for feature films.

TrunkSpace: You wrote, directed, produced and starred in the film. As far as your own personal skill sets are concerned, which does the film best represent in terms of who you are as a creative person while wearing any one of those particular hats? Where did you shine most on “Garden Party Massacre?”
Blair: That’s probably a question best answered by people other than myself. I’ve won awards on all fronts, so far, so there’s no real clear winner, as far as I can tell. And that would be okay with me. If I had to choose, I’d say it shows off my writing the best because, when I watch the film, I see other choices I could have made as a director and an actor, but I never really see anything I’d change about the script.

TrunkSpace: What do you think the film says most about you as a filmmaker?
Blair: Again, I’d love to know how other people would answer that question. I would say it likely shows most clearly that I don’t need much to make a film. At least as far as money and bells and whistles. The shoot was low budget, one location, small cast and no cool toys like specialty cranes and drones and the like. As long as you have a solid script and good people behind and in front of the camera (and in post), creativity flies all over the place… and that’s what makes a movie special.

TrunkSpace: The film has received great praise on the festival circuit. Has the reception been a surprise, and ultimately, what was the goal when you decided to put the film together?
Blair: The goal was just to make another film – using everything I learned from the first one; that people are loving it and that it’s winning awards is just sweet icing on top. You never know if people are going to like or hate your work… and both usually happen to some degree, so I think worrying about it is a waste of energy. Just do what you love, do your best and let it go.

TrunkSpace: The horror/comedy hybrid can sometimes be a difficult sandbox to play in, especially in terms of finding the tone. What approach did you take to establishing the voice of “Garden Party Massacre” and making sure that it didn’t veer too far off in either the horror or the comedic direction?
Blair: I’ll be honest: I love that hybrid genre so much; I’ve never cared if a film veered more in one direction or the other, so I never had any concerns when I was writing this. I think I was aiming more for comedy than horror, though. The title came to me and made me laugh, so that was kind of the through line from the start. And after the dark, brooding “Deadly Revisions” I was up for something light and silly.

TrunkSpace: You’ve been working in the industry for over a decade now. What have you learned through doing that you think someone would have a hard time learning in a classroom? Is filmmaking a hands-on industry?
Blair: I think you can learn a lot both ways: being on set has the advantage of also allowing for networking and becoming a familiar face… and being in a classroom allows you to learn in a more directed and focused atmosphere. But, yes, ultimately, you will learn some skills only on a set… and a good example would be how to stay focused on your job responsibilities despite interruptions, distractions and derailments. Think of it as surgery and you’re the head nurse: your job is to anticipate the lead surgeon’s needs. You want to be the nurse that hands the surgeon the needed tool before he/she even has to ask for it. That’s something you learn on set by watching others and doing yourself.

TrunkSpace: Horror seems to be a genre that you have spent a lot of time in. Has that trajectory been by design or has it been more about fate playing a hand in the path that you’re now on?
Blair: Well, I always say with a face like mine, horror and comedy were always my best options. And I always liked both genres, so that seems like kismet. I think they are actually not as dissimilar as they ostensibly appear to be: they both depend on a character’s reactions to situations – often to operatic proportions. And I’m pretty fearless when it comes to taking a joke or a creepy moment as far as I can. People seem to respond to that; the horror crowd happens to be embracing it more and more right now. I never planned for that, but I’m honored it’s occurring.

TrunkSpace: That being said, what is it about the genre that continues to interest you and keep you passionate about the work?
Blair: It’s always been the same thing for me since day one: the thrill, the adrenaline rush, the catharsis. All of which are related to the emotional element, not the visceral; to the fear factor, not the gore factor. (Although some of my favorite horror films are quite bloody, that’s not the thing that makes them beloved to me.) I love taking that roller coaster ride from the safety of my comfy chair: it’s a strange joy to be able to experience the most impossible horrors and then be rid of them after an hour and a half. We get to exorcise some of our angst. Since the horrors in our real world cannot be so easily and timely dismissed, I think it’s oddly therapeutic: it wakes you up, shakes you up, makes you appreciate being alive.

TrunkSpace: Going back to the many hats that you wore on “Garden Party Massacre,” and on many other projects for that matter, do you view them all as different careers or do they all fall under the same umbrella? Could you focus on just one of them for an extended period of time and be creatively fulfilled?
Blair: I see them as part of the same thing: extensions of myself, if you will. The jobs all inform and inspire each other: I think I’m a better actor because I understand what a director needs; I think I’m a better director because I understand what an actor needs, what a producer needs, etc.; I think I’m a better writer because I can’t write a line I can’t act, I know what sorts of things a producer cares about… and so on. But, yes, I could happily be an actor and be totally fulfilled; that’s what I was born to do; the other film hats grew from the desire to create opportunities for that… and for opportunities for other actors and filmmakers and audiences. For more movies.

TrunkSpace: The industry has changed quite a bit in recent years, particularly on the distribution side. It seems easier than ever for a filmmaker to have his/her projects seen, but at the same time, more difficult to engage an audience to sit down and watch it. What approach have you taken to marketing and giving your work the best chance of finding an audience?
Blair: Boy, I wish I had an elegant, uniquely insightful answer for that, but the truth is I feel a little like we’re all stumbling around in the dark. There’s no “one way” or “right way” to any of that anymore. For me, it’s just been a matter of continuing to keep putting myself out there. The more I do, the more people I meet, the more people see my work, the bigger my impression becomes. That dynamic helps market you and your work on its own… and that’s something money can’t buy. It’s a great example of perseverance over time, learning from mistakes, forging good relationships, etc. So, never give up. Where there’s a will…

TrunkSpace: As the industry continues to evolve, one of the mainstays that always seems present, no matter what’s going on in reality, is horror. In your opinion, why is horror such an evergreen genre that doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon?
Blair: I think because it taps into something primal. No matter how sophisticated and civilized we get, fear is a base emotion we can’t escape, and horror will always be a part of our world. Much of what we perceive as funny or moving evolves with the zeitgeist, but fear of the unknown remains. And that’s what great horror taps into. And it never dies. No matter how rational and wise we become, if we’re alone in the dark and we hear something unknown and unfamiliar, fear will find us.

TrunkSpace: You have a slew of projects due up, both in front of the camera and behind the scenes. What are you most excited about as you dive head first into 2018?
Blair: I’m excited about several projects. I’ll be playing the lead antagonist in “Safe Place,” a disturbing slasher meets social commentary, and an insane cannibal preacher in “Between the Living and the Dead,” a post-apocalyptic nightmare with an incredible cast. Of course, “Garden Party Massacre” should be out later this year along with the period horror film “Heretiks,” which is based on my original screenplay and stars Michael Ironside and Claire Higgins. And then “Fang,” the creature feature where I play creepy caretaker Harold, a character I think/hope could become my Freddy Krueger. Fingers crossed.

Click here for more information on “Garden Party Massacre.”

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Chilling Out

John Kassir

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*Feature originally ran 3/16/17

Chilling Out is where TrunkSpace talks all things horror and genre with those who work on the projects that give us the thrills and chills to keep coming back for more. This time out we’re chatting with John Kassir, an actor and voice-over talent with a diverse resume that includes turns as Elliot in the recent “Pete’s Dragon” remake and as Meeko in Disney’s “Pocahontas,” but it’s his pun-riddled run as the Crypt Keeper from HBO’s long-running series “Tales from the Crypt” that has cemented him as a pop culture icon.

We sat down with Kassir to discuss how he became the Crypt Keeper, his unexpected involvement (and win) on “Star Search,” and where the voices originated from.

TrunkSpace: How did your career as a voice actor come to be? Was it always in the cards or did it just sort of happen by accident?
Kassir: Well, you know, it’s funny because… I grew up in Baltimore and I always loved performing. I got involved in productions and that kind of stuff as a kid and also I’d do my own little circuses out of the basement for the neighborhood kids. I’d only charge them a penny but I’d charge them five cents for the penny candy, so I made a little.

TrunkSpace: That’s like the movie theaters charging eight bucks for a small coke!
Kassir: I was ahead of the movie curve for sure.

But that was a lot of fun. I used to do a lot of characters and voices and make my friends laugh and that kind of stuff. And then once I got to high school I had a buddy of mine, Fred Smyth… I know that name doesn’t mean anything to you but any of my high school friends would always remember the two of us doing the morning announcements. (Said as a proper English fellow) “The following morning announcement was due to a grant from the Mobile Corporation.” You know, we’d feature impersonations of the teachers and the Beatles and whatever event was going on at the school. And of course we’d wind up getting free tickets to all of the events if we would do the morning announcements and mention, you know, the gymnastic club or whatever.

TrunkSpace: So you were working as a voice actor before you were even working.
Kassir: That kind of started my whole thing with writing little routines and actually doing voices, you know, with a purpose of actually doing them. So it’s something I always did, but it’s not something that I thought would be a major part of my career, so to speak.

TrunkSpace: Did you go to school for acting?
Kassir: I got my degree in Theatre at Towson University, which has a really well known theater department now. When I was at school there were people like Charles Dutton, who a lot of people know as Roc from the TV series and from various great movies and shows. And Eric King, who was on “Dexter.” He played Doakes on “Dexter.” So, there were some really good actors that went to school with me. Dwight Schultz who was Madman Murdock on “The A-Team” and of course was on Broadway in “The Crucifer of Blood” and also starred on one of the “Star Trek” series. And John Glover came from Towson, so I had the opportunity to not only work with my generation of actors through the school but also Dwight and some of these other guys would come back and do shows with us or they would do workshops or that kind of thing.

So, I got my first Off-Broadway show right out of college and moved to New York and it didn’t last very long. I think it closed after three weeks of inner-fighting between the creative team and the producing team, so I got that dose real quick. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: Were you making a living as an actor at that time?
Kassir: I was making a living doing street performing in front of the Metropolitan Museum. It’s how I survived. I had decided early on that I wanted to make my living as an actor, whatever way I could do it. One of the jobs I had when I first wound up with no work in New York was doing singing balloonograms and that kind of thing. I was like, “Well, at least I’m performing.” But, for the most part I made most of my living for six years in New York in the early 80s street performing and whatever theater came up would come up. I also worked with a comedy group that came out of Baltimore, which was some of the funny people from my college. We were called Animals Crackers and we were kind of Baltimore’s version of The Second City.

So, in that show… in that group… I would do a bunch of different characters and voices. We would do sketches. We would write a new hour and a half sketch show every month and put it on at one of the local dinner theaters in Baltimore. And we kept a core group of us together when we moved to New York and wound up touring for the USO doing comedy all over the world for the Mediterranean Tour and the South Pacific Tour for service men in different parts of the world.

TrunkSpace: The voice work came back into the spotlight there for you?
Kassir: I guess that was a continuation of doing some of the voice. One of my signature routines was I’d do the “Wizard of Oz” in about 10 minutes… like the entire movie with all of the characters and everything. And when I was in New York trying to make it, I had auditioned and landed the role in an Off-Broadway musical called “3 Guys Naked from the Waist Down,” which I know sounds like a gay review from the Village, but it wasn’t. (Laughter) It was a musical about stand-up comics. Think “Dreamgirls,” but with three male stand-up comics. It starred myself and Scott Bakula and Jerry Colker. Jerry’s main career has been as a writer, be he started out on Broadway in shows like “A Chorus Line” and “Pippin.” We played three different stand-up comics. Scott played the kind of quintessential MC and Jerry played the angry lawyer-turned stand-up comedian trying to make his point. And I played, of course, the very kind of damaged, suicidal, Andy Kaufman-ish type character who really only had a connection to the world through his comedy. So the three of them weren’t very good at life, but the three of them together really clicked and they become a three guy team. In the play we shoot into stardom and we get our own TV series and we play all of the agents and we also played all the newspaper reporters and the whole thing. It was a really fun musical. It was a hit Off-Broadway and while I was doing the show, I was approached by these talent scouts and it was for the very first season of “Star Search.” They approached me and said, “Hey, we’d like you to be on our show.” I’m like, “What, as a singer?” I was doing a musical and I can sing, but I was no Sam Harris, let’s put it that way. He was the guy who was doing so well on “Star Search.” And they were like, “No, we want you to come on as a stand-up comic.” And I said, “Well, you know I’m not really a stand-up comic and it’s just a part I’m playing in the show.” And they go, “Well, you can win a $100,000.” And I went, “Fuck, I’ll do it.” I was like, “Did I tell you about my stand-up career that I’m working on?” And so I had to start coming up with material. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: $100,000 is great motivation to work on a routine!
Kassir: Oh hell yeah! We were making, I think, $650 a week or something Off-Broadway. My first Off-Broadway show I made $175 a week and shared an apartment with four other people, but once I was doing “3 Guys Naked,” I mean, that was it! Probably $650 a week was the most I had made. I may have made more than that on a really good week doing street performing, but this was the first time legitimately I was making more than $500 a week and then these guys are talking about going to win $100,000. So, I’m like, “Okay, how am I going to come up with a routine?”

TrunkSpace: What approach did you take in coming up with a routine?
Kassir: I started going back into some of my solo material that I had been doing while I was with Animal Crackers. We had two and a half minutes so one of the first routines I had to create was taking my 10 minute “Wizard of Oz” and turning it into a two and a half minute version of “Wizard of Oz.” (Laughter) Some of my favorite comedians were Ernie Kovacs and Burns and Schreiber. These are guys that most people don’t even remember… today’s generations of people, but certainly my generation we remember these guys as brilliant comedians that came out and did funny Tim Conway-type routines. Steve Martin would go on and do the Great Flydini. I was doing that stuff, with a third hand kind of bit, before Steve Martin even did that. It was an old clown routine that different comedians would take and turn into almost a Vaudeville act. So I would go out every week and I kept doing all of these different bits and I would do all of these voices and characters in my routine. Basically most of my act was based on a guy who was addicted to television and could change the channels in his head. I’d be doing “Star Trek” and then I’d be doing “Wild Kingdom” and then I’d be doing the “Wizard of Oz” in two and a half minutes and I’d flip through the channels. And I kept winning.

TrunkSpace: That character would be more difficult to pull off today with all of the channels that there are now.
Kassir: (Laughter) I know! At one point I’d start haywiring and I’d go, “I’m hooked up to 158 channels and there’s still fucking nothing on.” Of course, now it’s like 1500 channels.

But, I’d talk about, you know, as a kid there were three channels and UHF, which we don’t really know what that was. There were three channels and I’d get down early in the morning to fight with… we had five kids in my family… and I’d get down and turn on the channel that I wanted to watch and then hide the knob to the TV set. There wasn’t even a remote to fight over, you know? (Laughter) And I would do all of my favorite cartoons as a kid. Felix the Cat. The Jetsons. And I’d do all of these different characters in my act and I wound up going up against Rosie O’Donnell in the semi-finals. She was relatively unknown at that time and I beat her. And then I went up against Sinbad in the final. He was relatively unknown and I beat Sinbad. And all of a sudden I’ve won “Star Search.” I won $100,000. I’ve got to come up with a routine fast. I had the bits that I was doing for the show, but now I had to come up with… the first thing they started doing was booking me opening for The Temptations and the Four Tops on their T’N’T Tour. Lou Rawls. Bobby Vinton. Tom Jones. Tom Jones was a guest on “Star Search” and he said, “I want that kid to open for me in Vegas.” Everybody’s like, “Congratulations,” and I’m like, “How the hell am I going to do that? I’ve got no fucking act!”

So, I started creating this act based on this guy who’s addicted to television. He goes to Tubeaholic meetings and tries not to watch too much TV, but winds up channeling TV through himself and all of the different characters and the voices… the pop culture that we grew up with through television is basically the idea of it. And that’s when people started asking me to audition for their voice-over work. My first series that I landed on HBO was called “1st & Ten.” That was about a football team and starred Delta Burke as the owner of the team and Jason Beghe, who is on “Chicago P.D.” He was a quarterback on the show and Chris Meloni was a quarterback on the show one season. We had a lot of real football players on the show. And I played the Bulgarian field goal kicker that could kick 60-yard field goals. I came from a soccer team in Bulgaria and it was a really funny character. I had a great time doing it. And then I got a call saying HBO wanted me to come audition for another series they were doing called “Tales from the Crypt.” I had grown up with the comic books so I was like, “Oh my god! I can’t believe you’re going to make a show out of this. This is awesome!” They were looking for someone to play the character the Crypt Keeper and I didn’t know what I was going to do when I went down but they had the audition at Kevin Yagher’s studio where he was working on the puppet and was able to get a sense of what he looked like. I saw that he had holes in his throat and rotting teeth. He had all of the fun puns from the comic book, which it was funny to watch some of these other comedians and voice actors that were auditioning for it. They were looking at the script going, “Oh my God, these puns are terrible.” I’m thinking to myself, “They don’t get it.” This guy (the Crypt Keeper) thinks it’s Shakespeare. He loves saying this stuff.


TrunkSpace
: It was interesting because as a character the Crypt Keeper seemed to appeal to younger audiences while the show itself was obviously aimed at a more mature crowd. Was that by design?
Kassir: You know, it wasn’t by design but they should have thought of it. We had no idea that kids were watching this show. First of all, HBO was mostly only watched by adults. Secondly, not everybody had HBO the way they do now. A much smaller percentage of television sets had HBO. We knew the show was popular because people started having “Tales from the Crypt” parties at their house and inviting people over who didn’t have HBO. But, I think they probably never would have let go of the rights if they knew that kids grew up with “Tales from the Crypt” and had been watching it. Now of course, I’ve found this out because people started asking me to come to conventions. I was like, “Really? There’s still people that would care about ‘Tales form the Crypt’?” And they were like, “Are you kidding? We grew up with it. It’s the reason we’re into horror. The Crypt Keeper was our favorite horror host.”

TrunkSpace: He was the gateway horror icon.
Kassir: (Laughter) Right. The marijuana of horror. But he was also, for the show, he was the ride up to the top of the peak before the roller coaster dropped you down. But, it makes total sense. When I was a kid, if I saw some creepy puppet on TV, I would certainly want to watch it every week. I loved ventriloquist dummies and stuff like that. If one of those things was on TV, it was like, everything else went away and I was just watching that.

TrunkSpace: Another fascinating thing about the show was that the A-List actors of the time would stop by, which back then, was not a common thing in television.
Kassir: Yeah. Well, definitely having some of the top producers in film as our producers made a huge difference. They were really dedicated. William Gaines was still alive and had given them his baby. He had given them 500 stories from his comic books to license and use. They were really dedicated to trying to make the show into a comic book come to life. You’re talking about Joel Silver and Richard Donner and Walter Hill and Bob Zemeckis and David Giler, who did “Aliens.” These were the top guys in the business and some of them still are. They got the best actors. They got the best directors. They got the best composers to do the music. HBO gave them the platform to do anything they wanted. HBO had a slogan, It’s Not TV, It’s HBO. That was coined while one of the execs was sitting in the audience watching a screening of the first episode of “Tales from the Crypt.” Somebody goes, “Wow, this was really great television.” And somebody goes, “It’s not television, it’s HBO.” And they were like, BING! It became their tagline for I don’t know how many years. (Laughter) Up until then, everything was sports, sex, and comedy, which was working well for them, but here we were having an opportunity to really do something different. They even used the comic books as storyboards so that some of the shots were even set up to look exactly like the frames out of the comic book.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned how the rights were sold away, but if we’re not mistaken, HBO still owns the rights to the character the Crypt Keeper, correct?
Kassir: They retain the rights to that particular Crypt Keeper, but they can’t use him as a crypt keeper because they don’t own the rights to “Tales from the Crypt” anymore.

TrunkSpace: He’s the Pun Keeper now.
Kassir: Exactly. The Pun Keeper. Jack Wahl… I call him the Crypt Keeper’s pimp, but he’s really quite extraordinary and over the years he has found some amazing projects for the Crypt Keeper. He’s always thought of the Crypt Keeper as an actor. He’s always thought of him as me and Kevin’s puppet. It was sometimes hard to book him because it not only involved me, but it also involved four or five brilliant puppeteers to bring him to life. It wasn’t always an easy task to get the Crypt Keeper work as an actor unless you didn’t see his face and it was very easy just to book me, which I think is one of the reasons why I’m so well associated with the Crypt Keeper. If you go to the Hollywood Museum on Hollywood Blvd, they have the Crypt Keeper sitting in a chair. It doesn’t say “The Crypt Keeper,” it says “John Kassir.” (Laughter) I can’t mind that, to be that associated with this character, but at the same time, I don’t look like that! (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: What must be amazing for you is that you have clearly left your mark on pop culture by having played the Crypt Keeper, but at the same time, you’ve been able to still live a somewhat private life and just be John?
Kassir: Totally. You’ve hit your finger on that. Literally I went from obscurity in street performing to walking down the street and being stopped by everybody after winning “Star Search” to not really liking it that much. You know, I enjoyed the celebrity because it got me good work, but I didn’t really enjoy it in terms of loss of privacy. I was a stand-up comic. Let’s face it, I love being in front of an audience and having attention, but at the same time, there was a lot to give up. I didn’t want to be a flash in the pan. I didn’t want my career to be one of these quirky comics that came and went.

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Chilling Out

Mickey Keating

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Chilling Out is where TrunkSpace talks all things horror and genre with those who work in the projects that give us the thrills and chills to keep coming back for more. This time out we’re chatting with Mickey Keating, writer and director of the new film “Psychopaths,” which is set to arrive on digital home entertainment January 2.

We recently sat down with Keating to discuss the “Psychopaths” gestation period, how his experience shooting it differed from his previous films, and why he hopes his work sits in your head longer than you sit in the theater.

TrunkSpace: What has the “Psychopaths” journey been like for you? Was the film gestating in your mind for a long time prior to being put on paper and ultimately into production?
Keating: Oh yeah. I wrote the first draft of the script a long time ago. It was totally different. And then the script came together right after we wrapped my third film. I was down in Florida, and I just had this idea, and so I started writing. So it’s been in my life for about, probably, three or so years now. We shot the movie really quickly, but then we edited for almost a year, which was really an exciting exercise and a totally different experience. And now, it’s kind of like shoving the baby bird out of the nest. As soon as it comes out into the world officially, I’ll have empty nest syndrome and start panicking.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned that the original draft of the script was totally different than what it is now. Are you happy that original version didn’t become your shooting script and that you had time to let the story breathe and develop further?
Keating: Absolutely. That’s always the process with all of my films, in some way. From an outside perspective it makes it seem like I make films really quickly, but the reality of it is that typically these movies are kind of… I’m hoping and praying to get them out into the world and to be able to make them. They’re really all slow builds. And so, yes, I’m very, very thankful that there’s always a barrier because first drafts of scripts are typically never great.

TrunkSpace: In a lot of ways they’re kind of mind dumps, right? It takes time and sometimes separation from the material to see where it needs to be improved upon.
Keating: Totally. I think there needs to be a long time to develop. And now, with my new films that I’m working on, I’ve taken it even further in terms of preparation. I’ve started cutting full-on animatics so now we can actually watch the entire films before they’re even made, which is a very new, exciting thing.

TrunkSpace: From a directing standpoint, did you approach your job differently in any way with this particular film?
Keating: I think with every film, you’re pleasantly surprised when you go from storyboarding to seeing the camera rolling. And for this one, I think it was very thrilling just to be able to see these characters come to life. And that’s what I really wanted to do first and foremost with this film, was just make a movie about the characters, and the experience that they kind of go on, before anything else. And so what was so great was just being able to go to an actor, like Ashley Bell, like James Hébert, like Jeremy Gardner, and just say, “Here’s who was in my mind for a little while, now they’re yours and you can do whatever you want.” So we really built the characters together. That was really exciting and different, because with all of my other films, they’ve been kind of less like that. This was the first kind of really freeing moment.

TrunkSpace: And so often in horror films, the “bad guy” is not necessarily a character, but a boogeyman like device.
Keating: Totally. And we really wanted to do something a little bit different than that. My rationale was, it’s a movie called “Psychopaths,” it’s got mass killers, so we’d better do something different than what people are expecting, or else we’re screwed.

TrunkSpace: Where do you see “Psychopaths” falling into the current horror climate?
Keating: It’s funny because for me, I love horror movies, but I don’t really keep my finger on the pulse of what’s new coming out, to an extent. I always feel like there’s a five to 10 year barrier of whether a movie will last or not. And so really, the effort that’s the most important to me was just to make something where if it comes out, God willing we finish the movie, hopefully it’ll last and people will be able to talk about it for longer than its theatrical runtime – to make something that sits in people’s minds. So it’s not necessarily the instantaneous reaction that I’m looking for. I want to make a movie that hopefully lasts, and sits in your head longer than you’re in the theater. That’s the effort that I put into it.

TrunkSpace: It does seem like that when horror is done right, it has a longer shelf life than a lot of other genres.
Keating: Absolutely. And so that’s what I really kind of tried to do – that process of looking at these movies that really inspire me. It’s like, “Why are we still talking about Dario Argento, or Mario Bava, or Takashi Miike?” Obviously Takashi Miike to a lesser extent because the guy makes 100 movies, but why are these movies from the ’60s, like Roger Corman’s “The Trip,” still important to me? That’s what I really wanted to try to step up and do.

TrunkSpace: When you go back and screen your films after completion, do you see different aspects that you didn’t pick up on the first or second or third time around? Does your own POV change?
Keating: Well, truthfully, I think, it’s hard for me to ever go back and watch my films. What I do, they’re very personal and they’re very kind of emotional in the sense where when we make a movie, we pour literally everything that I love about movies or that I want to say at that time, into the film. And so, it’s really kind of hard for me to go back and watch them, because I’m like, “Oh, well this is what I was feeling at this point in my life, when I got to make these films.” So, do I find new things? Maybe I do, but there’s a little bit longer of a barrier that I…

I’ll answer that question in five years, I think. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: For the viewer, a film is the memorable part, but for a filmmaker, because it’s such a long process that you put all of yourself into, the experience must be such a meaningful part of the equation?
Keating: Absolutely. And you know, it’s kind of hard to not be able to see your fingerprints on the statue or the sculpture. My sensibility, too, is like, once the movie is done, it belongs to the world. And so, I’m always interested in hearing what people’s perception of my movies are, because that might not have been a way that I think about it. But an answer is always right and an individual interpretation of a piece of art is right. And that’s very exciting, even if that’s not the initial intention.

TrunkSpace: At this point in your career, you’ve yet to direct anything that you haven’t also written. Do you see a time for yourself where you’ll step behind the camera and direct a project that you didn’t pen?
Keating: I think never say never. There are a lot of films and filmmakers that I love that don’t write their own movies, but right now, I really just do love being able to have that freedom that I’m not going to infuriate the writer if we decide to improvise on the set, because I know him pretty well. (Laughter) That’s the process that I always want to be able to have. A film is a very organic process, and to shape it from day to day, you should have a plan, but always be willing to embrace the improvisation and the spontaneity, to an extent. And so, I don’t want to infuriate a writer who is very close to their script.

Psychopaths” is available on digital home entertainment January 2.

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Chilling Out

Larry Fessenden

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Chilling Out is where TrunkSpace talks all things horror and genre with those who work in the projects that give us the thrills and chills to keep coming back for more. This time out we’re chatting with horror icon Larry Fessenden, actor and CEO of Glass Eye Pix, whose latest film, “Psychopaths,” arrives on digital home entertainment January 2.

We recently sat down with Fessenden to discuss his creative simpatico with director Mickey Keating, why he loves working in genre films, and how he became an unexpected legend to fans of horror filmmaking.

TrunkSpace: In addition to acting in “Psychopaths,” you also served as executive producer. Could you see director Mickey Keating’s vision for the film when you first read it?
Fessenden: Well, I’ve known Mickey for some years now. He was an intern at my company, Glass Eye Pix. He was always just a real film enthusiast. I liked his early films, so we’ve been talking about movies for a long time together. Then he made a film specifically for us, called “Darling,” which I produced also with Jenn Wexler, who was on “Psychopaths.” He’s a real cinephile, so it’s fun. We talk about movies, in terms of old ’70s artists like Altman. So I could see “Psychopaths” pretty much in my mind once I was reading the script. It clearly is a mosaic of images, and appalling situations. It’s still impressive what Mickey and his crew can do for very little money. It looks like a really classy, beautifully lit film, with a lot of cool long takes, and other things that you associate with bigger budgets. So it’s always exciting to see what he’s up to. He’s always going to try to get a little bit of a different vibe. Mickey is a visualist, so you’re going to get something cinematic out of him.

TrunkSpace: Because you guys have worked together numerous times over the years, does that mean you sync up creatively?
Fessenden: It’s a friendship. We still argue about things, and that’s fun too. He’s truly an insatiable filmmaker. There’s always going to be something there that is compelling, visually or aesthetically. In that regard, we’re aligned in that I really look forward to his creative choices. As I’ve often said, his editor, Val (Krulfeifer), is very important to his process. Even after the film is shot, and you get a version of it, the work hasn’t been finished. There’s going to be a lot of jostling about the edit. Then comes sounds. Any filmmaker knows that sound is as vital as the picture, in a weird way.

TrunkSpace: Especially in the horror and thriller genres. It sets the table and heightens the emotional experience.
Fessenden: Absolutely, and this is something he is really, really masterful at. It’s fun to see his choices. He uses a lot of music. He uses really interesting music, and that’s one approach. Then there’s sound effect choices. As I’m talking about the movie, I’m always sort of picturing different scenes, like I’m running it fast on the screen of my mind. Once again, that’s really where my affection for the movie lies, is in the visuals.

TrunkSpace: Does both producing and acting in one of Mickey’s films go hand in hand?
Fessenden: Well, I’ve actually acted in every one of Mickey’s movies. Even when I didn’t show up on set, I did a voice in “Ritual.” I did the phone call. It’s just sort of a tradition. We’ll see how long we keep it up. But more importantly, he came to me as a producing arm. We had other producers, and guys who put the money in, but he likes to work with Glass Eye, because Jenn Wexler, who works with me, is really great – boots on the ground. She came out to LA and got things cooking. Then I think Mickey is loyal to Glass Eye, and likes to be under our banner, because we try to make cool, unexpected, indie horror movies. So we’ve had a nice association. We did a movie called “Darling,” which was quite different, just a single character, black and white, but also, another stylish, bold move in his little canon of films.

TrunkSpace: Is it important to you for Glass Eye to remain producing stuff within the genre brand, but at the same time, being diverse in the storytelling aspect, because your company seems to take chances that others would not?
Fessenden: I appreciate that. One of my talking points is that horror is an amazing, big tent. My least favorite is horror comedy, but we’ve done one that’s very charming called “I Sell the Dead” that’s about grave robbers in the 18th century. We’ve done robot movies. We’ve done movies like “The House of the Devil.” So I do love the diversity of tones, and styles, and even sort of degrees of pulpiness that horror can afford. We don’t only make horror movies, but when we do, we like to push the envelope. I sort of contrast it to everybody’s favorite producer, Jason Blum, who has always kept this single house routine going. We prefer to do different things. Even at a low budget, you can be very creative, and that’s the idea.

TrunkSpace: And there’s so many sub-genres within the horror genre. As far as a creative palette, there’s so much to paint with.
Fessenden: Yeah, it’s fantastic. My own films are not very violent, but Mickey gets pretty nasty in his stuff, and both of those exist. Horror is also about dread, and some of the deeper horror of self betrayal, and all of that. Horror is also about being arbitrarily chosen to be serial killed. Both are the dark parts of the human condition, so it’s fun to explore them all. Also, the horror comedy that interests me is the one that’s really just about the absurdity of life, and kind of almost a satire aspect. So yeah, it’s a big tent.

TrunkSpace: You’ve become a horror icon to genre fans. Do you view yourself that way and was it an active role that you sought out, or did fate step in and put you on that path?
Fessenden: Well, it’s funny. Fate had a huge amount to do with it. I have mentored filmmakers, and I think that’s where it all came from. But I remember when this icon status started… I felt I was very young. I’d only made three or four horror movies, and they weren’t big successes. They were sort of singular. I will take that credit – they’re specific to me, and no one else would make a movie like “Wendigo.” (Laughter) But then as I started supporting Ti West, and Graham Reznick, and Jim Mickle, and a lot of strange films like “Automatons” by James McKenney… I don’t know how it happened. I don’t mind playing that role, but it is funny how you get these buzzwords associated with you.

TrunkSpace: Do you think part of it is having an eye and taste for the types of films that genre fans enjoy?
Fessenden: I think so. Although, I would argue that all of us in the Glass Eye orbit are a little bit pegged as a slow burn, which is sort of a way of saying, not entirely commercial. It’s not the actual jugular of horror. It’s that, maybe, we have consistently found good directors. I do think that’s the case. As I say, Ti, Mickle, and some of these guys have made many classics, and that cements the reputation. Also, we’ve been at it a long time. We consistently have something every couple of years, something that really does elevate the genre. We just put out a movie called “Most Beautiful Island” and that’s an unexpected horror. You won’t assume there would be horror in it, mind you, because it’s actually subtle. But it’s cool to assert that the genre can have artistry, and control over tone, and seriousness.

And then what’s funnest to do is a Mickey movie, because that speaks maybe more directly to certain genre fans, but not everybody. I don’t know. Look, I believe in making stuff that is unique to the directors. Mickey is making films that are very much personal to him.

Fessenden and Dominic Monaghan in “I Sell the Dead”

TrunkSpace: Has the various streaming platforms extended the shelf life of the films that you’re making and have they positively impacted the business side of what you do?
Fessenden: No. In fact, it’s frustrating, because you don’t actually see those numbers. In the old days, you’d sell your movie to a humble DVD company, and they’d give you some money for it. I made movies for 30 grand, and sold them for 60 grand. I think we have the illusion that streaming is sort of making movies accessible, but most movies can fall off the radar pretty fast and then they’re gone forever. There’s not even a video box lying in someone’s garage. So I don’t romanticize the streaming, quite honestly. Of course, it’s lovely to tell your kid, “Oh hey, let’s watch a movie tonight, and you just find one.” I don’t know, I don’t find the streaming particularly charming, to be honest.

TrunkSpace: With all of these various hats you wear on film sets, do you view them all as separate careers, or do they all fall under one bigger umbrella?
Fessenden: I appreciate the question. I mean, I have an approach to the arts… I play the saxophone pretty badly, but I always laugh that those solos have a certain vibe, not unlike my acting. Or the way I like to approach storytelling, and how I like to encourage other artists. I feel like it’s all coming from one voice. I really am master of none, no particular trade, but have my hands in all of them a little bit. So that’s all I can offer, is something unique to myself, and hope it sort of makes sense.

Psychopaths” is available on digital home entertainment January 2.

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